Located on the Southern end of the Red River Delta, about 93 km from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is bestowed with diverse topography comprising both coastal and mountainous areas. Ninh Binh represents typical rural villages of Northern region with green paddy field, expanding mountains and poetic river that flows to the horizon. Ninh Binh’s history is also worth mentioning: This land used to be the capital of Dai Co Viet (old name of Vietnam) from 968 to 1010, so there are many cultural and historical relics.
The topography of Ninh Binh is favored by the Nature with karst topography formed through million years that make the province as a Ha Long Bay in land with primitive valleys, caves, and submerged mountains which all offer breathtaking landscapes .The most famous tourist attraction of Ninh Binh is Trang An eco-tourism center ( world cultural and natural heritage) which has just been expanded in recent years and soon become famous for a system of caves, valleys and historical relics.
Trang An comprises three protected areas: Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel Cultural – Historical Area; Trang An-Tam Coc – Bich Dong Scenic Area and Hoa Lu Special-Use Primary Forest. With such splendid landscapes and historical relics that make Ninh Binh a destination visitors desire to discover.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
In 968, Dinh Bo Linh ascended to the throne and took the name of King Dinh Tien Hoang and reunified the country under the name of Dai Co Viet and Hoa Lu was its capital for 41 years (968-1009).
The mountains and sea combined to make Hoa Lu’s picturesque landscape. Hoa Lu lays in a flat valley surrounded by the Trang An lime stone mountains, which form a natural wall protecting the old citadel. The city’s northwest is bordered by the Hoang Long River, the tributaries of which run through the capital, cooling the weather within the city and serving as convenient waterways.
The Royal Court was built in an area of 150 hectares in the eastern part of the capital while the western part served as a site to educate and protect children.
As the capital of the country for 41 years, Hoa Lu has many palaces, pagodas, tombs and pavilions that were built by different dynasties. One of the most popular pieces of architecture is the Bao Thien Tue Palace, which was plated with gold and silver. However many vestiges have been destroyed due to time and weather.
When King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (now Ha Noi) in 1010, two temples were built to dedicate to King Dinh Tien Hoang and his successor Le Dai Hanh. These two temples were first built in the 11th century and reconstructed in 1696.
King Dinh Temple is located in Truong Yen Thuong Village, Hoa Lu District. It was built in the shape of a Han character.
After the first entrance, called Ngo Mon, there is a royal stone bed with nghe (mythical animals of the old times) standing on both sides. Outside the temple, is Khai Thanh shrine dedicated to the parents of King Dinh.
The temple is divided in three shrine: front shrine, thieu huong house, and sanctum, where the statue of Dinh Tien Hoang is located. On the left is the statue of his eldest son Dinh Lien. On the right are statues of Dinh Hang Lang and Dinh Toan. On each side of the altar, there is a stone dragon similar to the ones placed near royal beds.
King Le Temple is situated in Truong Yen Ha Village, Hoa Lu District, 500m from King Dinh Temple. In terms of architectural design, King Le Temple is very similar to King Dinh Temple, but smaller. It also consists of three parts: front shrine, thieu huong house, and the sanctum in memory of the King. The statue of King Le Dai Hanh is at the centre, on the left is the statue of Queen Duong Van Nga facing the King Dinh Temple, and on the right is that of Le Ngoa Trieu, his fifth son and third king of the Pre-Le Dynasty.
Coming to Hoa Lu visitors can attend traditional cultural festivals here, and the most important and largest of them is the Truong Yen Festival, which is held on the 10th day of the third lunar month. The festival is in memory of the Kings of the Dinh and Le dynasties. The festival lasts for three days with many traditional games and martial arts, reflecting local residents’ legends.
Tam Coc – Bich Dong
King Le Canh Hung said that Bich Dong was the second nicest grotto in Viet Nam, after the Huong Tich Grotto in Ha Noi.
Bich Dong Grotto
In 1773, Mr. Nguyen Nghiem (the father of the great writer Nguyen Du) visited this cave. After viewing the whole scenery of the mountains, waterways, fields, and sky covered in green mist, he gave the cave a very beautiful and romantic name, Bich Dong (which literally means “Green Pearl Grotto”). Bich Dong Grotto is said to be the second most beautiful cave in Viet Nam. The Bich Dong Pagoda was built near the cave in the Le Dynasty.
Tam Coc Grotto
One cannot visit Bich Dong Pagoda without visiting Tam Coc Grotto, located approximately 2km from the pagoda. Tam Coc is 3km from Van Lam Wharf.
Take a boat from Van Lam Wharf to reach the Tam Coc Grotto, consisting of the Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba grottoes. These caves are adorned with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of different shapes and colours that sparkle like gemstones.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
This is one of the largest pagodas in Viet Nam and owns many recors.
Covering a large area of 700ha, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a cluster of Buddhist architectural structures, consisting of new, giant and imposing temples of the newly-built Bai Dinh Pagoda area which play off ancient and respected shrines of the ancient Bai Dinh Pagoda area.
The new 80ha Bai Dinh Pagoda area is built in 2003. It nestles against Bai Dinh Mountain and faces a lake near Hoang Long River. Big, bold and solemn structures, deeply imbued with Vietnamese architecture, were arranged in five layers upward, including a temple’s inner three-door gate, a bell tower, a temple dedicated to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Phap Chu Temple devoted to the Shakyamuni Buddha, and Tam The Temple dedicated to Buddha.
From the main entrance, the pagoda’s magnificent three-door gate is the biggest of its kind in Viet Nam, built with 550 tonnes of iron wood. The gate is flanked by two 5.5m-high solid bronze guard statues (Ho Phap), weighing 12 tonnes each and four pillars tower over the entrance is 13.85m in height and 0.5m in diameter each. Around the gate are eight smaller bronze statues of Kim Cuong angels, each weighing 8 tonnes.
After walking along the corridor of about 1 kilometer where 500 white-stone Arhat statues are placed two sides, there will be the bell tower with the largest bronze 36-ton bell that is hanging here. Each Arhat statue, 2-2.5m in high, 2-2.5 tonnes in weight, is carved from monolithic stone, need one month for completion and different from each other.
Going up is the 800sq.m Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara Temple – a wooden one-layer-roof building with five main chambers and two side chambers. In the centre of the sanctum is the stunning 10m-high bronze statue of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara with a thousand eyes and hands. This 40-tonne statue is considered as the biggest Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara statue in Viet Nam.
The Phap Chu Temple – an imposing imitation wooden two-layer-curve-roof building – where a 10m-high bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha sits on his lotus throne situated. This 100-tonne statue has been recognized as the tallest and heaviest bronze depiction of Shakyamuni Buddha in the country in 2006 by the Viet Nam Guinness Book of Records (Vietbook).
The Tam The Temple is located on a high hill at 76m above sea level. This is a majestic, grandiose building with three-layer-curve-roof style and an area of 3000 square meter where three bronze statues represent the past, present and future weighing 50 tonnes each placed.